Amo Cilento in Estate! (I Love Cilento in the Summer)

Our Italia-influenced move to a simpler (smaller) U.S. habitat kept us occupied (occupato) until it was time, once again to escape to Villa Velina. Before we knew it, we were at Philly International waiting to board our flight. Since we had not ever been to our area of Italy during the summer when the population was at its peak, we were excited to see Marina di Casalvelino in full swing.

In our mountain-contained valley leading to the Tyrrhenian Sea (the part of the Mediterranean Sea off the western coast of Italy bordered by Sardinia and Corsica), the population dwindles to only locals in all but the months of July and August. Don’t get me wrong, the population gradually swells leading up to those months, but by August, all of the Italians are on vacation for the month. When added to all of the Germans and Brits who also vacation in Marina di Casalvelino, this normally sleepy little beach town instantly turns into a whir of activity from crowded beach clubs to volleyball tournaments to nightclubs.

The first time we saw Villa Velina just days before purchasing it, in the beginning of June, the Marina was empty other then ourselves, our realtor and three to four others strolling by the sea. Now, we couldn’t wait to see August in the Marina! We tried to get some shut-eye, if not sleep on the way over. Soon, the sun was rising. This is the part of our flights to Rome I love the best, because it means 1) I get to see my “funny island” (Monte Argentario) connected to mainland Italy by two strips of land, and 2) we will be landing soon!

This time we get a cute hatchback Lancia rental at the airport. We quickly speed down the autostrada. I just love the interesting views as we get close to our destination.

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We arrive at Villa Velina as the sun is on the downturn. We quickly remove the plastic coverings from the furniture and clean (after all, it is siesta and no shops are open). Then we pick up some tasty snacks from the Supermercato and prepare for happy hour.

As we chill on our balcony, enjoying the ever-changing vista of Monte Stella, we look forward to the beach day we have planned tomorrow!

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Buona Notte,

Giovanna e Giorgio

Con Te Partirò (Time to Say Goodbye)

Before we knew it, the time had come to leave our beloved Villa Velina and Cilento. We had done and seen so much and enjoyed the food, beautiful scenery, friendly people and all of our experiences so very much. We truly felt “at home” in our new home there. All of us at one time or another may have lived in a place that never really felt like “home”, but here we just felt instantly like we belonged. Even though there was a language barrier, this did not make us feel uncomfortable . . . everyone we met truly made us feel welcome with open arms!

We decided to have our “last supper” at La Campagnola, one of our favorite local restaurants. We couldn’t decide which of our favorite things to have, so we ordered and shared many items including salad, swordfish (spada), mixed seafood grill (grigliata mista di pesce), pizza AND tiramisu! This was quite a feast and cost us only €32 for both of us, including vino!

As we dined, we reminisced about our wonderful first visit to Villa Velina and all that we had seen and done and all the fun we had:

Stopping in our beloved Positano to pick up our dishes; our first trip to the supermercato and meeting the nice ladies there; our morning visits to Isola Verde for cafè to get our wifi fix; meeting Rafaele (who worked at the store that delivered and installed our kitchen) and how he was so quick to close his store and take us across the street for cafè to celebrate; how sweet it was for Maria and Alessandro to drive all the way from near Rome to bring us welcome cookies, wine and olive oil (all homemade); how we had managed to buy furniture  and otherwise totally furnish a new condo, with everything needed for survival (think: corkscrew), that had nothing in it before we arrived other than a kitchen, table and chairs and a bed; the overwhelming kindness of the people and the beautiful scenery.

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As we discussed these wonderful memories, I felt warm salt-water tears begin to flow down my cheeks. I didn’t want it to end. I believe I could have just stayed and left all of my earthly belongings back in the states. I think George was seriously thinking at this point that he may have trouble getting me back on the plane. . .

We talked about our long-term plans to spend more time at Villa Velina and said “arrivederci” to our town, for the next morning we would leave to take the 4.5 hour drive to Roma to spend the night to catch our flight the following morning. The only reason I decided to leave was so I could return . . .

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

 

 

Thanksgiving in Italy

So, here we were, beginning to feel quite at home in Italy and preparing to celebrate our first American holiday here. As I awoke two days prior, I gasped with excitement to see the surprise Monte Stella had in store for us – She was adorned with a light, glistening frosting of snow!! Snow is extremely rare in Southern Italy and rarely ever happens, but we were lucky enough to witness this rare event.

Monte Stella stands at a majestic 3,711 feet above sea level right by the sea, so this just further emphasizes her stature! There is truly no way to capture her majesty with a lens. You must be physically present to take in the full effect, which in case you haven’t gathered by now, I would be more than ready and willing to do 24/365, except for the wonderful family (including adorable little grandchildren) and great friends we have in the US. In Italy, I always rise early every morning and practically run to the window and balcony to check out the view. This often leads to yet another photo shoot of the coastline and Monte Stella, because it’s never the same picture twice. Yes, God is the most amazing artist! And in Casalvelino, He has big sky, huge Monte Stella and the sea to work with, all at once . . . in my opinion, it doesn’t get better!

Before we knew it, it was Thanksgiving and we awoke to find quite a different view. The atmosphere had become a bit unstable, perhaps due to the cold air that caused the snow to fall on Monte Stella. Our weather app told us to expect a stormy day for Thanksgiving, and the skies certainly supported that forecast, so we hurried out to the shops before afternoon siesta set in to grab everything we would need for our Cilentano-style Thanksgiving Feast.

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So, off to the pescheria (fish store), pasticceria (pastry shop) and frutta e verdure (fruit and vegetables) to gather everything needed for our feast.

Then to go home and enjoy preparing our “catch”. The tiny clams were simply dilizioso! Everything had such a fresh taste and smell, unlike the watery tasting fruit we often are stuck buying back in the states, unless you are lucky enough to be located close to a produce source so you can buy fresh directly.

The day was filled with back to back thunderstorms and we enjoyed watched the spectacular cloud formations over the sea and around Monte Stella from our hilltop perch across the valley.

After about twelve back to back dramatic storms, clearing seemed to be coming from the sea. Red sky at night, sailors delight!

Ciao!

Giovanna

 

 

 

Cilento Life

So, here we were, waking up in Italy in our very own home for the first time! This would be our first full day in Villa Velina since we settled on the property the last day of our honeymoon, six months prior. Other than the hour that we viewed the property three days before buying it back in June we had never visited Italy south of Naples.

Under the Tuscan Sun has always been one of our favorite movies, due to our love of Italy, but it was never our intention to impulsively buy a property in Italy or anywhere else. In reality, that only happened in the movie version of Frances Mayes story. In real life, she had rationally purchased a home in Cortona only after spending about 20 summers there. We often giggle to ourselves that Hollywood would not have to alter our story, since we just do what is the unthinkable for most normal (normale) people.

Since it was Thanksgiving week, it was well into November and we had the chance to witness the winter weather patterns for the very first time. We have incredibly indescribable views from Villa Velina, which is why we decided to buy it sight unseen after one email conversation with Luisa from Property Organizers.

The very first thing I did upon waking on this first morning was walk out on the balcony and view my “new empire”. From the far right, I could see the valley, some farms and olive groves.

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As I panned to the left, directly in front of me stood Monte Stella, a 3,711 foot high reportedly extinct (hopefully true) volcano. I just stared at “her”, my jaw dropped in childlike wonder. This was just the beginning of a morning ritual for me. The clouds were so dramatic.

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Then, continuing to pan further to the left was our perfect slice of the Tyrrhenian Sea!

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I knew one thing for sure, there would be much sky gazing during my days at Villa Velina!

Ciao!

Jo (Giovanna)

 

Virtually Furnishing Villa Velina

During the five months between receiving the keys to Villa Velina and our return over Thanksgiving 2013, we kept busy researching the area and purchasing and arranging for the installation of our kitchen (cucina). Interestingly, the word for kitchen and cook is the same, which explains why you will sometimes hear someone Italian say “you are a good kitchen”.  I can assure you that when we attempt to speak Italian, we say equally interesting things!

We could never have done this without the help of Maria, whose family sold us the condo. It all started when we asked Maria where she would suggest we buy our kitchen.  She suggested Mobili Oranges in Casal Velino Marina and “Facebooked” pictures of some styles. We immediately fell in love with one and Maria said she would negotiate a better price for us!! She did a great job and got a matching table and chairs for free! It is customary to sell “sets” like this in Italy.

Most kitchens are modular (think Ikea) and you can buy different configurations to fit your needs. The configurations include sinks, stoves, ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers (if desired). George and I decided against a dishwasher. We were going to have a 10 foot kitchen and did not want to sacrifice the extra cabinet space. Also, we were only planning to have tableware for 4, so we would never fill a dishwasher before we would need the dishes for the next meal. After all, the whole point of Italy for us was to go back to a simpler time – not to buy extra sets of dishes so we could store the dirty ones in the dishwasher until the full load was ready to run! The excesses of our Big Fat American Lives were really beginning to sink in  as we planned what we would need and how we would furnish Villa Velina.

While there in the summer with her family, Maria also arranged for and oversaw the installation of our kitchen. We wired the funds to Mobili Oranges just prior to installation. We learned that Mobili Oranges also sold other furniture, so we inquired about a bed. Once again, Maria came to the rescue and chose a (very comfortable) bed. This was the last item we couldn’t do without for our first visit. Mobili actually delivered the bed before receiving payment for it!! When would that ever happen here? They simply trusted us to wire the funds, as we had for the cucina.

Maria’s husband, Alessandro also helped us tremendously. For example, the oven came with a cord that needed to be hard-wired, and there was a plug there. This is just a small detail that Alessandro corrected for us. We truly couldn’t have done it without them!

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Planes, Cars, Ferries and Buying Villa Velina

Continuing from The Big Decision . . .

So, we did it! On May 25th, 2013, we tied the knot! Of course our wedding reception was Italian-themed. I’m sure if all of our friends and relatives could have made the trip to Italy, we would have had a destination wedding. But the the day just wouldn’t have been complete without everyone.

Before we knew it, we were on our way to catch our flight to Rome to begin our two week Southern Italian honeymoon. As we cleared customs and were reunited with our luggage, we instantly spotted our driver holding a sign with our name. Antonio took us just across the road to his Mercedes (illegally parked, of course) and whisked us down the autostrada to the Naples ferry port and our hydrofoil to Capri.

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We had much anticipation as we embarked on the official beginning of our honeymoon. As the hydrofoil departed, George and I reflected on our fun wedding and quickly turned to the events ahead of us: three magical nights in Capri, followed by two in Sorrento and a week in Positano. While in Positano, we had a little business to take care of – we needed to open a bank account at Banco di Napoli. Property Organizers had made arrangements with the local branch so we could conveniently handle this while in Positano. Property Organizers had already secured a Codice Fiscale for each of us, so securing an Italian bank account so we could transfer our money in to cover the purchase, was the last detail left. Oh, did I forget the most important thing? The other piece of business while in Positano was to meet our realtor and travel down to actually physically see Villa Velina, a detail most normal (normale) people would have handled before (prima) sending all those Euros for a deposit.

Our time in Italy felt leisurely. The Monday after arriving in Positano, we made it a priority to get to the Banco to get our account opened. Our contact there was Paolo and he immediately greeted us and invited us into his office. Once in, we could see he had a stack of account-opening documents in front of him. We exchanged greetings and small talk and Paolo asked us about the location of the property we were buying. We replied that it was in the Caselvelino area, about 1.5 hours to the south. Paolo began to shuffle the papers nervously and asked us why we were opening the account in Positano, rather than closer to where our home would be. He spoke very good English. We explained that Property Organizers had arranged for this in Positano for our convenience because we were on our honeymoon. Paolo then continued to play with the papers and looked up at us and said “I have never opened an account for people who do not live in Positano and I don’t feel comfortable doing this”. We tried everything, including getting Property Organizers involved, but Paolo wouldn’t budge. This was a huge concern, because we had to get the funds transferred in time to clear and be available for settlement and we understood in Italy even though you may wire-transfer, it could take a couple of days to be recognized by the bank. Once the funds were available, we had to go back and get the equivalent of a cashiers check for settlement! (How we managed to get the funds in cyberspace awaiting the opening of the Italian account is a topic for another story)

So, Property Organizers came up with Plan B. When Luisa picked us up on Wednesday, we would go first to the branch in Agropoli (a town one hour to the south) to open the account. We realized we were going to be cutting this close. Wednesday came quickly and we had the pleasure of meeting Luisa and driving down the remainder of the incredible Amalfi Coast for the first time as we traveled first to the bank and then to Villa Velina.

We arrived in Agropoli at 1:30 pm, excited to be finally getting this done and found the doors of the Banco locked! “Oh, no”, I thought, “this is siesta”. This did not fluster Luisa, she just pounded on the door until someone came and opened it for us! We were taken upstairs and met with our banker, who spoke only Italian. Fortunately, we were there with Luisa. The account got opened, the funds got transferred and we crossed our fingers that on either Thursday or Friday the funds would be available when we went back to the Positano branch to get the checks for settlement.

Now, on to Villa Velina! As we neared the area, it became clear that we were not quite in the right location, so Luisa called the owner’s son and he agreed to meet us at a gas station. We followed him up the hill to the property and there it was gleaming in the sunshine with views and interior exactly as expected and yet better.

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After taking all of the requisite photos, Luisa drove us down to the nearby beach town that we could see from our balcony and we had lunch and gelato as we walked the beach promenade. As we drove out of town, there Villa Velina was glowing in the sun on the hillside across the valley! The only thing that could have made it better was a rainbow!

Back in Positano for Thursday, we enjoyed our last two days so much – we really could live there. Below is a picture of me on our balcony and one of our many shots of this Bella Città!

On Friday, we successfully extracted our funds for settlement, on Saturday we traveled up to Rome and met up with Luisa to go to settlement. All went smoothly.  After settlement, we went out for caffè with our wonderful new friends.

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When we hopped on the flight home the next morning with Italian house keys in our hands, I can’t begin to express how wrong that felt. Shouldn’t we be staying????  We must be certainly crazy . . .siamo certamente pazzo!

 

Villa Velina just happened

Ciao Amici!

Well, this is my first official blog on Mezzogiorno Living! At first, I am going to tell a multi-part story about how we came to be where we are and love The Cilento and Mezzogiorno as we do! Thanks for joining me and I hope you stay for the journey!

The photo above is of George and I with all of the wonderful people who we first met at settlement when purchasing Villa Velina. There is much romanticized about Italy in movies and the stories we have all heard, but how much of it is really true?

Well, I can tell you that the movie Under the Tuscan Sun is definitely a romanticized version of a true story. Apparently, Hollywood didn’t think the cool things Frances Mayes did were interesting enough to sell without changing her marital status. Also, Frances didn’t just jump off the bus, like in the movie, and buy a house in Italy; she and her husband had vacationed in the area for years before taking the plunge.

While planning our honeymoon and looking for vacation villas, I inadvertently happened upon a site that was not a rental site, but rather properties for purchase.  All of a sudden, these pictures were in front of my face for an unbelievable price.

I showed “my find” to George, saying “I know we are only looking for a rental and there is no way we will do this, but just look at this price – it must be a timeshare. Should I just write the realtor and ask?” I said this thinking that when we learned it was a timeshare (which we are very against), that would be the end of it.

Already, our minds were working overtime about the possibility of doing the impossible. We had perhaps, watched one too many episodes of House Hunters International, and if you have already read our “About” page, you know that our love for Italy had us set up for adventure. Luisa (the realtor) answered back almost immediately, telling us that this property was not a timeshare, but simply an outright purchase and ownership.

Stay tuned for the next episode . . .